New satellite to plug Australia's digital blackspots

Funding from federal government spurs project

Satellite provider NewSat is preparing to launch Australia's first locally-owned satellite, in response to a A$160 million federal cash injection to supply remote areas with digital television.

The project, dubbed Jabiru, has been in development since 2007 and is spearheading the company's move to cash-in on the government initiative.

Company CEO Adrian Ballintine says the satellite will be able to serve the 247,000 homes identified by the government as located in digital TV blackspots.

"The satellite design to provide 'Ka band' coverage across Australia, will have a payload that accommodates the distribution of live broadcasting to the [blackspots]," Ballintine says.

Under the plan, blackspot areas will be served via improvements to existing terrestrial broadcasting facilities, installation of repeaters to extend signals and the addition of satellite services.

Broadcasters will spend some $18 million to upgrade 100 analog transmission relay towers to digital.

Consumers receiving digital television signals will need to shell out about $300 for new satellite dishes, alongside a $300 government subsidy.

Layer 10 analyst Paul Brooks says the provision of satellite services is an issue of footprint, rather than capacity to supply digital television, and suggested the government may consider launching a new satellite to serve blackspot areas.

Telsyte analyst Greg Tsang says it may be more economically feasible to launch a dedicated satellite to supply broadband and digital TV, than to install terrestrial repeaters to geographically-dispersed areas.

"[The government] might find it cheaper to launch a satellite to supply a footprint to these areas rather than installing repeaters," he says.

Tsang says it is "not unreasonable" to expect a government tender for the supply of new satellite services, adding providers such as IPStar, AusSatCom and ITC Global Orion.

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